Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Mother's Writing Her Story of Motherhood

How Do You Dust A Butterfly:
  by my mother
Barbara Arnold written about 1995

Dusting was not high on my priority list, but it had to be done occasionally.  When I was especially lax my husband would write the date on the slant top  mahogany desk.  Then I would go to work.  The children's rooms were a problem.  There were the unfinished automobile and plane models I wasn't supposed to touch, and piles of oddments I didn't want to touch I might put my hand on an attempt to cure a squirrel skin, or a very old sandwich with furry mold on it.  I was careful about clothing after I pulled three decomposed clams from Ross's blue jeans, the forgotten bait from fishing two weeks past.
I dusted the base boards, window sills, and arranged stuffed animals artistically, as in a home decorating magazine, then tackled the real challenge, the tops of furniture.  Here were the treasures which under no circumtances could be thrown away, not a single rusty nail, box top, marble or unstitched baseball.

The Scouts, bless them, and the schools all encouraged hobbies and edifying collections in shoe boxes, glass jars, mounted on cardboard, taped in scrap books which fell apart, and in heaps.  All attracted dust, especially Chip's car parts.  Have you ever considered dusting the greasy organs of a disembowelled automobile engine?  The trick is to put them in boxes with covers, a bigger box every week as the collection grows.  I must not forget he won a blue ribbon with his dismantled V8 engine, each part carefully identified and connected to a diagram with tape.

Then there were the live things, the fuzzy caterpillar living of course in a shoe box, the bowls of guppies which ate their children, and the baby racoons demanding to be fed every half hour with Anne's doll baby bottle.

No, our house would not have made the pages of  " House Beautiful".  Interesting, yes, but odd.  What decorator would put piles of rocks on the bureau, and cigar boxes of possible fools's gold and "could be" arrowheads teetering  on the bookcase:  Why were the books in tall stacks on the floor?  They were pressing leaves and wild flowers for, you guessed it, a nature collection.

Anne's room was usually booby-trapped with open paint boxes on the floor, jars of mixed and murky paint water, and damp paintings where I needed to step.  "Ginny dolls" and their accouterments occupied the level spaces, all of them, except where the stuffed animals and our live cat Cleopatra lounged.

I dediced to go with the flow on one occasion and posed the dolls interestingly
standing on their heads, peeking out of drawers, sitting precariously on the toilet, peering in the mirror, and so on.  That was fun but I had to stop to fix supper, and the dusting didn't get done.

Lullabelle, the Big Doll, seated in Anne's little rocker, presided sweetly over the chaos.  I had to be careful of her.  She was the Best Doll, so loved her arms and legs were prone to fall off.  She once had to go to the doll hospital and came home intact but with a new wig which took a long time to become accustomed to.  Today she sits on the sofa in Anne's living room, a presence in an antique dress.

My heart skipped a beat once at the sight of a fragile bird nest on Ross's desk, and one day, a butterfly.  After a few weeks I could blow the dust off the nest without disturbing its delicate construction, but how does one dust a butterfly?  It wasn't impaled on a pin, or part of a collection, just there as one would place a treasured bibelot, a wonder to be cherished.  It stopped me.  I was suddenly so glad I had a son who kept a butterfly on his desk.  In the high school, this oldest son Was on the wrestling team, but I had seen this butterfly!  At last the wings fell off, it disappeared, and I would look at the space where it had been.

Ross is gone from us now, but not before the special dust on a butterfly's wings touched us all forever.

Anne, the little mama of Lullabelle, the "Ginny"  dolls, and Cleopatra's descendents which cat-wise threatened to populate the earth, grew up to mother two adopted children along with her home made son,  sheltered a succession of black Labradors, and presently owns a mutt named " Otis Campbell", and a small dog creature that well looks to me, well, like a "dust kitty".  Her water colors now decorate her walls, crisp fragile renditions of fruits and flowers which I who was an art teacher wound not dare attempt.

Anne and her husband once provided dinner, bed, bath, and breakfast to a remarkable man passing through town on foot.  He was carrying a huge wooden cross, like Jesus.  It had a little wheel at the foot so he could drag it along the highway.  More recently she was a nurse and bus-mother to twenty teen-agers on a church mission to Mexico to build a house for a grateful little family in a barrio.  Twice lately when I have gone to visit her in another state there was a family or person in need housed in the guest room.  That is what she is like.

Younger son Chip, now middle aged, shares a house with me.. He has long since graduated from car parts, though that knowledge has been invaluable to us all these years.  He distinguished himself early by becoming the youngest graduate of Saab school and parts manager in the country.  He likes to hike in the woods and this spring brought home a beautiful perfect skin of a five foot long black snake, freshly discarded.  He draped it across the chest of drawers in his room, among the pictures and mementos of his children.    I found it a problem on cleaning day, so coiled it in a shallow box and stretched Saran over the top for viewing.  It is very handsome.  We can see how the emerging retile carefully peeled it off around the eyes and mouth, revealing an elegant new suit, never tearing even to the tip of the tail!  I feel good when I look at it.  I am old now and know I am in good hands.

I learned I didn't need to be so tidy, just wait a while and the hoards would be assigned to oblivion by their owners.  New sets of wonders would appear, and they really were wonders, the stuff and dreams of my children.  Dance programs, a victory sign cut from leather, another of metal welded in the school shop, posters, ballet slippers, a tiara, hockey pucks and the derby Ross wore exuberantly for sprin skiing, awards, diplomas follwed, and then they were gone, so soon it seemed that after all the dust had settled.

by Barbara C. Arnold

I miss you mom and I always will.  I think of  " how to dust a butterfly" often.  I remember the brother who first collected it every day.  I wonder at how my mother managed this balance in her life... this will to continue to search for beauty and the courage to cherish life and children with such passion even as they are taken from us and the dust settles.  Mothering is like taking off your clothes and walking naked when your tired and your feet hurt and your heart hurts you would take this walk for your child you would carry your child.  This is how God shows us to love one another.  Having faith to loose all you hold so dear and taking the walk carefully and with amazement past the butterfly, past the mementos and ahead into the every lasting love of God. 

Ecclesiastes 3:1
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:

Happy Mother's day to the mothers I know, and the birth mother's I haven't met but who have taken that naked walk and intrusted their most precious gift with me.
Happy Mother's Day to my daughter's Amy and Biz and my dearest friends and my Sister's in law Gail and Debbie.  Bless you all.

Mom and Ross
Mom and Chip

Biz and Leo

Me, Mya, Amy

Mom and I her 90th birthday

Me and Lullabelle


Mary Jane said...

Thanks for sharing your mother's story, Anne. She wrote so elegantly. I miss my mom, but I wish I had the memories that you have. Happy Mother's Day, BFF.

Araignee said...

What a lovely legacy she left! I am missing my mom today too. It is a day of such mixed emotions. In Mom's honor, I am taking myself to the drugstore and picking up a box of Whitman's chocolates, the gift I gave her every year since I can remember. Then I am going to plant her favorite red and white petunias in her garden. Happy Mother's Day!

SuziesImaginarium said...

Absolutely beautiful! I loved reading brought tears to my eyes.

Anne Arnold Pierce said...

Happy Mother's Day to all of you. I am celebrating eating strawberries dipped in chocolate!